God’s Good Hand

I’m not sure who said it, but as I hover over Ezra’s continuing story, I’m reminded of someone saying, “We’re all worship hogs!” But Ezra wasn’t.

Though, within the heart of man, there might be the natural desire to want to receive the credit–especially when credit is due–Ezra seems to be somewhat counter-natural. When we might be prone to see how some accomplishment might build our resume, Ezra seems to have marched to the beat of different drummer. And I’m thinking the beat Ezra marched to was the word of God.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me His steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

(Ezra 7:27-28 ESV)

It was Ezra who had rubbed shoulders with the highest political powers over Babylon. He who had requested another commissioning permitting exiles with a heart for home to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. It was Ezra the scribe who made the ask, and to whom “the king granted him all that he asked” (7:6). What a guy! What a negotiator! Not only does he secure the permission for the trip, but the funding for it as well. What’s more, he’s ready to return to Jerusalem with financing in place to help in the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem.

But rather than take credit, Ezra took courage. Rather than boast in what he had done, his confidence was bolstered in what God was doing. For in it all, rather than tell about his hard work, he testified of God’s good hand.

Since Ezra comes on the scene in chapter 7 in the book bearing his name, God’s good hand clangs, again and again, like a bell tolling in the background. While a lot is said and done by Ezra the man, there is a repeated acknowledgement that what is being accomplished is by God’s good hand.

. . . the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him . . . he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him (7:9) . . . I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me . . . And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion . . . The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.

(Ezra 7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 31)

By anyone’s account in any age, this Ezra the scribe was a rock star. What he accomplished was nothing less than amazing. And yet when it comes to getting the glory, he takes a pass, pointing out repeatedly that it was only by “the good hand of our God on us.”

So what makes this guy a glory giver rather than a worship hog. I want to suggest that, at least in part . . . and I’m thinking a very, very, big part . . . it was because, not only was the hand of God on Him, but the word of God was in him.

. . . for the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.

(Ezra 79b-10 ESV)

I’m thinkin’ there’s a connection between Ezra’s heart being set on God’s word and Ezra’s head recognizing God’s hand.  A tie between his desire to study, to do, to teach, and to give God glory.

He knew that his favor before the king wasn’t just because of his charismatic or persuasive nature, it was because of a divine dynamic. It wasn’t just his convincing arguments that influenced the king’s decision, it was the Spirit’s working that directed the king’s heart. God had set things in motion as He had promised decades before by the prophets. And Ezra just got to be a bit player in the greater story God was directing.

And Ezra inspires me to see the worship hog in me be put down as the word of God in me lifts Christ up. That the “me monster’ would decrease, and that He who is Master would increase.

The good hand of God on me, by His grace. The goodness of God always declared, for His glory.

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In His Confidence

Gain better than silver. Profit exceeding gold. More precious than jewels, and nothing one could desire can compare. In one hand there is long life, in the other riches and honor. Ways of pleasantness, paths of peace. A tree of life for all who lay hold, and they are called blessed. Blessed is the one who finds wisdom (Prov. 3:13-18).

Or, through my Christ filter, blessed is the one who finds Wisdom.

Hovering over Proverbs 2 and 3 this morning.

The dad’s encouragement to his son is to pursue wisdom (2:2-4). To make the ear attentive to her, to incline the heart toward her. Calling out for insight, raising the voice for understanding. Seeking wisdom as though it were silver, searching for it as for hidden treasures. Because when you find wisdom, aka Wisdom, . . .

. . . then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.

. . . Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart.

(Proverbs 2:5, 9-10a ESV)

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom.

The pursuit of wisdom opens the door of understanding to things beyond mortal understanding. The fear of the Lord. The knowledge of God. But it also provides insight for skillful living. For what it means to walk righteously, discern justly, and for knowing what is fair. Finding wisdom is finding the good path.

And here’s what’s overwhelmed me a bit this morning concerning this divine dynamic. It is possible because the God who by wisdom (aka Wisdom) founded the earth (3:19), is the God who brings seekers of wisdom (aka Wisdom) into His confidence.

Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in His confidence.

(Proverbs 3:31-32 ESV)

The upright are in His confidence. That’s what’s grabbed me this morning.

The NASB says, “He is intimate with the upright.” The NKJV that “His secret counsel” is with them. And if the upright are those who rebuff the way of the worldly and wicked because they have pursued and encountered Wisdom (and they are), then wisdom-seekers are blessed because they have been brought into the inner circle of the deep things of God.

Those who ask for wisdom are given. Those who seek her, find. Those who knock on her door, to them it is opened and they are brought into His confidence.

How amazing is that? Pretty!

To abide in Christ is to abide in Wisdom. To live our lives in Him is to have His mind in us.

The things we take for granted after walking the pilgrim pathway for so many years are the things of His secret counsel. The truths of intimate communion. The blessings of being seated with Him in heavenly places.

Chewing this morning on the wonder of being in His confidence.

By His grace. For His glory.

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I’m Listening . . . Still . . .

Started in on Proverbs this morning. After reading chapter 1, chewed on how important it is to have ears to hear. Then, as I sometimes do when a thought doesn’t immediately form, I went back in my e-Journal to look at previous entries on the same passage. Found this from 2010. Apparently that’s the year I started reading the “character” of Wisdom in the opening chapters of the Proverbs through the filter of Christ. Started marking my bible in a different way that year, and have continued on in like manner ever since. Also noted that 2010 was the year before our lives became over-shadowed by an extended season of dealing with disease. A reminder that laying down a solid foundation in the good times has a way of sustaining you through the more difficult times. Anyway, back then I titled the entry “I’m Listening.” By God’s grace, and for God’s glory, I’m listening . . . still.

———————————

Transition day . . . after almost 7 months with the Psalms as a part of my daily readings, I now shift to Proverbs. Always kinda’ sad to leave the Psalms . . . always anticipation, though, as I enter the Proverbs. I love the praise of the Psalms . . . I so enjoy connecting with the emotion of the song-writers and having their experience direct my heart heavenward. But we’re not to love God with our heart only . . . but with our minds too . . . enter, the Proverbs. Oh, to be wise . . . to have a heart like Solomon which sought a mind in tune with God . . . that too is a worthy pursuit. And so, entering the Proverbs, I desire to grow in wisdom . . . to become more a master of “skillful living” . . .

To help me, I’m going to look to change up my coloring scheme for this book so that I can be on the look for repeating themes and topics addressed by Solomon and others in this piece of “wisdom literature.” One of the shifts I made this morning was I took the color I use for Jesus, shaded navy blue, and I used it for wisdom. Though I’m not necessarily looking for connections between my “default colors” and my “Proverbs colors”, in this case, this one does seem appropriate. Is it too much to think of Christ as the embodiment of wisdom?

Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words; ” . . . Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you . . . whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.”

(Proverbs 1:20-21, 23, 33)

Oh, to hear the voice of wisdom calling out above the world’s din. Though being in the marketplace or caught up on the rat race, to still hear her voice providing context to the fast paced encounter I have each day with life. To know the voice which can envelope my carnal experience with a spiritual dimension. To see things not only through my own eyes, but through the eyes of the One who created all things and seeks to redeem all things.

There’s a promise for those who are open to wisdom . . .who have their “ears on” for her words . . . for those who are seeking to catch what she throws. To those, she will pour out her spirit . . . and reveal her thoughts, make known her words. To those, she will provide a safe and secure place, a place without fear of evil . . . not a tribulation-free place . . . but a fear-free place.

And as I consider wisdom calling out this morning I hear these words:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

I hear that voice crying out in the open squares and concourses. These words calling me to bind my life with His that He might pour His life into mine. A promise of soulful rest . . . a security and peace that passes understanding that comes only from hearing and heeding His voice.

Oh, that I might be tuned to wisdom’s frequency . . . that the Spirit of wisdom might have free access to lead me in ways of wisdom and truth . . . that the Son of wisdom might live through me as I’m conformed more and more to His image and participate more and more in His mind . . . that the Father of wisdom might be brought some pleasure through my navigation of this world by His light.

Yup, I love the Psalms’ praise . . . but I’m looking forward to the Proverbs’ wisdom.

Call aloud . . . raise your voice . . . I’m listening . . .

. . . still

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Blessed Are the Awake

Anticipation. The act of anticipating. Of regarding something as possible and taking action to be prepared. Of looking forward to something in the future with a present readiness.

The opposite of anticipation? Being unaware. Unengaged. Not ready. Asleep at the wheel.

Thinking about being ready this morning as I read in Luke’s gospel .

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. . . . You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” ~ Jesus

(Luke 12:35-36, 40 ESV)

Jesus to His disciples: “You also must be ready.” The Master is coming back. The Bridegroom will soon call for His bride. The King is not long in claiming His kingdom. And ours, as His servants, His bride, and His people, is to live in anticipation of His return. To live in expectation. To be ready.

What’s more, says Jesus three times in this passage, “Blessed are the awake!”

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! . . . Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” ~ Jesus again

(Luke 12:37-38, 43 ESV)

Repetition is exclamation in my books. A raising of the voice. Multiple flashing signs saying, “Don’t miss this!” And in this case, all fingers are pointing to a blessing.

Blessed are those dressed for action. Blessed are those who keep their lamps burning. Blessed are those who are doing what the Master has asked them to do.

Blessed are those living in anticipation. Blessed are those occupied, with whatever they do, in expectation that the Son of Man could come at any moment. Blessed are those ready for His return.

Blessed are the awake!

The awake are those who do whatever they do as for the Lord, knowing that, when He comes, they will receive His inheritance as their reward (Col. 3:23-24). The awake are those who recognize they are stewards of the abilities and talents they’ve been graced with by the Master of the house and deploy them in service to His kingdom (Matt. 25:14-30). The awake are those focused not only on investing in their retirement plans but are also intentionally laying up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20, 1Tim. 6:18-19).

And the awake are those who are blessed.

Oh, to be found faithful. To be doing what I do with an eye towards pleasing my Master. To be mindful of the stewardship He’s given me. To be somewhat aware of the part He’s asked me to be in the Body. To intentionally use what I think are the gifts He’s graced me with in the area of service He’s called me to. All because I awake every morning–not that I do, but that I should–with the thought, “Perhaps today!”

Should the day come before the grave comes, might I be found in anticipation of His return. Might I be found awake. Then blessed will be this servant.

By His grace. For His glory.

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From Super Power to Separated House

Chewing on King Uzziah’s story this morning in 2 Chronicles 26. Sixteen years old when he took the throne. Fifty-two years at the top of the food chain. Started well. Ended . . . well, not so well. Taking note, for my own instruction and warning, on what takes a seeker of God from being a super power to living in a separated house.

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

(2Chronicles 26:5 ESV)

Uzziah sought the LORD, the LORD prospered Uzziah. “God helped him” against his enemies (26:7). And the more he rose as victor, the more nations that paid annual taxes to him. As his fame increased, so did his power. Increased funds led to increased military spending led to increased power led to even greater fame. All because the LORD helped him. Not only was he helped, says the Scriptures, “he was marvelously helped.”

In Jerusalem he made engines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.

(2Chronicles 26:15 ESV)

A military marvel, Uzziah had built an army that “could make war with mighty power” (v.13). He was a super power in the day.

But . . . oh, that ominous word “but” . . .

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.

(2Chronicles 26:16 ESV)

What’s he thinking? He’s a military man, not an anointed priest.

Because he has mastered earth, did he think he could now direct heaven? The super power became super proud. This military genius became incredibly stupid as he walked in unfaithfulness to the God who had “marvelously helped” him.

In his clouded, arrogant, misdirected, egotistical thinking the king reasoned, “If I can build such an army and rule over so many of my enemies, then truly I don’t need anyone to mediate my presence before God. If I am great enough to command such an army, then surely I must be clean enough to walk on holy ground in the presence of God.”

He went into the holy place and offered incense. Uninvited and unconsecrated, his head was so full of his own press clippings that he couldn’t imagine a place too holy for him or any duty beyond his worthiness. His accomplishments so many that entering the sanctuary apart from God’s anointing seemed unnecessary. But he was wrong.

Eighty priests told him he was wrong (v.17-18). And when he responded with arrogant anger at their rebuke, God told him he was wrong, as well.

. . . Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him.

(2Chronicles 26:19-20 ESV)

Leprous. And not just some scaly skin on his forearm, but “leprous in his forehead!” No doubt now as to his uncleanness. No question now that he was unfit to be anywhere near the holy of holies. The junk that secretly ruled in his heart now the disease that showed plainly on his body. And, knowing the law, he knew that not only was there no place for him in the sanctuary, but, because of his contagion, there was also no place for him within the community. Only a separate house.

And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD.

(2Chronciles 26:21a ESV)

From super power to separated house. Because, when he was strong, he grew proud. When God had shown Himself present and proven Himself faithful, the king received for himself the glory and responded by being unfaithful. When God had “marvelously helped,” Uzziah mistakenly exalted himself and thought he had outgrown the need for anyone to mediate on his behalf.

Oh that I might beware of such arrogance. That I would be kept, in any way, from misinterpreting the Lord’s help for my ability or worthiness. That I would always humble myself in the sight of the Lord, casting myself solely upon His Son and His marvelous help on my behalf. Never forgetting His atoning sacrifice, always acknowledging my need for an eternal Intercessor.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Good, Pleasant, and Fitting

Yesterday morning, one of the highlights of my Sunday was singing with the saints. It is every Sunday. There’s just something about hearing voices lifting up the name of Jesus. Something about looking upon the countenance of those who sing songs of remembrance, recalling the finished work of the cross and their victory in Jesus. Something about people speaking to one another in melodic prose of the promises of God. Did I mention Sunday morning music making is a highlight for me?

And I get that I may be a bit more naturally wired for music than others. On a continuum ranging from tone-deaf to virtuoso, I’m more “let’s make melody” than I am “meh!”

But all that being said, I can’t help but lament songless saints. ‘Cause, if I’m picking up what so much of the psalms is laying down, someone who has known deliverance and encountered the God of deliverance should, at the very least, be a closet choir member. And that, because it is good, pleasant, and fitting.

Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
   for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

(Psalm 147:1 ESV)

Sing praises to our God, pens the songwriter, for it is good, it is pleasant, and it is fitting.

Sing because it has intrinsic value. It aligns with the revealed will of God. The same God who looked upon each day of creation and said, “It is good” is the same God who hears from heaven our worship from earth and whispers, “This is good, too!” Though we may not always know exactly God’s will for us, though we may struggle to see what we can do that would please Him, on the authority of Scripture we can always know that when we sing His praise, He declares, “It is good.”

Sing because it is a source of delight. Our sacrifices of praise, the fruit of our lips (Heb.13:15), are pleasant to our God. Think about that. We can do something that delights the God who defines delight. A few feeble notes squeaked out of our vocal chords, when sourced in hearts tuned to declare His glory, brings our God as much pleasure as does the heavenly choir of many tongues that surrounds His throne. God hears our songs and says, “Sweet!”

And not only are songs of praise pleasant to our God, they are pleasant to the saints themselves. After drinking from the fire hose of grace, singing is a much needed release valve for thanksgiving. What a delight to respond. What’s more, how pleasing to be shoulder to shoulder with others as they too use chorus to convey their comprehension of God’s mighty works and of His holy, holy, holy nature. Singing praises to our God is a pleasing experience–both for God and man.

Sing too, because it’s simply the right thing to do. It is fitting. Praise is God’s due. Worship is what is commanded. Offerings are the precedent. Thus, it is our reasonable service. Lepers who are made whole should, when seeing they have been healed, turn back, praise God with a loud voice, and fall at the feet of Jesus giving thanks (Lk. 17:12-19). Those who once walked in darkness, when gathering with other seeing blind people, should welcome every opportunity to, by faith, look into the face of the Giver of sight and declare, “Great are You, Lord!” “I once was blind but now I see” being their tireless anthem of heartfelt wonder and appreciation. Yup, a song of praise is comely, seemly, fitting.

Make melody with your voice because it has intrinsic value. Because it is a source of delight to both God and man. And because it is just the right thing to do.

And then, live in anticipation of another highlight Sunday coming your way.

Singing of His grace. Singing for His glory.

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Our Eyes Are On You

Code red! Threat level severe! Enemy forces were coming together against Judah. And King Jehoshaphat, sizing up the tri-nation army being assembled against them, came to a most reasonable conclusion, “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.”

Situation desperate. So, what do you do when there’s nothing you can do?

“O our God . . . We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

(2Chronicles 20:12 ESV)

Jehoshaphat was afraid. He had every reason to be. But he “set his face to seek the LORD” and assembled the people to do likewise (20:4). Though the kingdoms of the nations conspired against him and his people, he determined to look to the God of heaven who rules over all the kingdoms of the nations (20:6).

“Our eyes are on You,” declared the king.

Thus, the people cry out to God, and God answers His people.

“Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. . . . Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’'”

(2Chronicles 20:15, 17 ESV)

Okay! That’s encouraging. We’ll stand firm. We’ll hold our position . . . and maybe our breath . . . as we wait to see the LORD’s salvation on our behalf.

But here’s the thing that I’m chewing on this morning. They didn’t wait to worship.

I’m thinking if it were me, I might instead be cautiously optimistic. I wouldn’t want to count my chickens before they were hatched. I’d wait for the win before I sang of the victory. I’d want to actually see the Lord’s deliverance before singing the Lord’s praise. But not Jehoshaphat and Co.

Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.

(2Chronicles 20:18 ESV)

They had cried to the Lord. They had heard the word of the Lord. They believed the promise of the Lord. And so they gave thanks for the steadfast love of the Lord (20:21).

The horde was still approaching. They still had to face the enemy. But instead of preparing weapons, they offered up worship. Tactical planning (which would have been of no use anyway against the horde) gave way to heartfelt praising. Instead of putting his best soldiers on the front line, the king instead sent his best singers to go before the army (20:21).

Fear had given way to faith. And faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Heb. 11:1).

Though yet to be fought, the battle was already won. Though the trial was yet to be faced, the outcome yet to be determined, they were convinced that through Him who loved them, they were more than conquerors (Rom. 8:3).

And that, because “our eyes on You.”

Such is the outworking of His abundant grace. That in all things He might receive the victorious glory.

Amen?

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